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You’ve known him for a decade as Carl Gallagher in Showtime’s hit comedy-drama series Shameless. Now get to know Ethan Cutkosky as Otis in Max Chernov’s upcoming dark-comedy film Going Places. The film takes place all in one night and follows three high school graduates played by Cutkosky, Spence Moore, and Chloe East after they try to cover up a hit and run on the way to their valedictory desert getaway. It gets even more complicated when they become involved in a deadly crime ring.
“On paper, it definitely comes off as a dark comedy, but you see these kids, this incident that happens to them, and each perspective that each kid has in this night,” Cutkosky, who is also co-producing, says. “It has a lot of coming-of-age elements mixed with action that’s packed in there. It’s a very creative and interesting project and I’m super excited for it to come out and have people see this because we’ve been working so hard on it.”
The actor’s decision to co-produce came as he wanted to be more involved in the project beyond being in front of the camera, from attending larger team meetings to learning the ins and outs of how the set and everyone comes together to film. Cutkosky says, “Honestly, I wanted to come on and just learn from them. I wanted to make friendships from the very beginning, see how the set was being put together. I’ve had such a great time. They were very welcoming to bring me forward in that position. It’s a very interesting aspect because I want to be on this side of things and get to do more later on.”
With hopes to premiere Going Places at a film festival sometime next year, Cutkosky has been focusing on getting the film done. While COVID-19 restrictions are once again being put into place, Cutkosky explains that they have a robust technique to make sure everyone is as safe as possible. They have a nursing team on set to watch over them and do tests five days a week to ensure everyone’s healthy and able to work.
While Cutkosky is no beginner at working on projects that deal with heavy and dark topics, having worked on Shameless, he mentions that every day feels new to him working on this film. “It was different but in a way that I felt trained for,” he says, comparing the two projects. “You see how people like Emmy Rossum and William H. Macy down to Jeremy [Allen White] and Cameron [Monaghan] handled their heavy days, how they handled their action-packed days because we did have a lot of fights and stuff on Shameless, and then also make it a comedy. For this project, we packed all this stuff into a movie. Every day has been something different. It’s super interesting to see and we’re also not doing this with a studio budget. We’re doing this at our own whim, which makes it that much more close-knit and, honestly, a lot of fun.”
This project comes after Shameless aired its 11th and final season. For the last time, viewers got to see their favorite, reckless family cause mayhem in their own unique ways. Carl Gallagher finally becomes a police officer, something he’d been working toward for a while, but in the end, realizes that it was not what he thought it’d be. He finds himself struggling to agree with the way the force works between the rich and the poor, as well as the imbalance of race. Not for the first time, Shameless writers bring in real-life social justice issues, and it’s interesting to see how Carl, with the upbringing he’s had and the place he grew up, coming to terms with the injustice that happens at the hands of the ones he wanted to join.
“I think it was a nice arc of Carl’s storyline,” Cutkosky says. “You see him go through all these different trials and ups and downs. You see him coming out of jail, you see him wanting to go into the military, you see him wanting to do good for his community, but also saying I don’t want to be the cops that I’ve been surrounded by and had the notion that you and I had growing up. So, I think that there’s a lot of interesting ups and downs. I was very happy with the way that they left it off.”
Cutkosky essentially grew up playing Carl Gallagher. From pre-adolescence all the way to turning 21, he gave parts of himself to the character while also taking parts of it with him. He says, “I feel like it’s every young little reckless 9-year-old’s fantasy to have fun, to burn stuff. When I was that age, I was wanting to go break things, shoot things, explode things, you know, it was a very fun role as a 9-year-old. Then as you grow, you have your own experience growing as a young person going through everything, while you see this character, Carl, doing the same. You start to blend them, but now as I got older, I started to see a lot of differences between us.”
The show dealt with a number of heavy and mature topics, many of which might be challenging for young actors, such as Cutkosky and his co-star Emma Kenney, who played his sister, Debbie Gallagher.
“I think it’s very interesting the way that, you know, growing up on it you don’t really think about much because you’re very in the moment,” Cutkosky reflects. “You are witnessing it and you’re going with the flow of everybody, watching it and learning. It’s being trained to a certain point with your creativity, skills, as well as character building. As we end this year, I’m 21 now and I started to kind of look back on it and realized how much significance it had in my life from a personal and a professional point of view. Working on these comedic and very heavy topics and situations was a nice character build, but it also taught me real-life lessons of the world on and off set.”
And along with the heavy topics and situations, there were a number of shameless moments too that left viewers shocked and completely scandalized. When asked which moment he’d rank as the most shameless, Cutkosky answers, “I don’t think you can narrow it down to a single one. The first one I remember was when I was 9 or 10 on the first season, and they threw a bag of cocaine out the window and a machine gun. My character goes and picks up the two, looks at both, and whispers, ‘Thank you, God,’ and then ends up shooting a bald eagle with the gun. The family ends up eating it for Thanksgiving, so I’d say that’s up there.”
Saying goodbye to these characters was difficult for a lot of die-hard fans that have kept up with them for over a decade. It brings the question of where do these characters end up in the future? It’s highly unlikely that their days of chaos and mayhem are behind them even as they’re all settling down into adulthood. Cutkosky smiles and says, “I think there’s always going to be a nice ending with community and family, but it’s everything that’s in between so I always would say the Gallagher’s are good as long as they have each other.”
Moving forward beyond Shameless and Going Places, Cutkosky is open to all opportunities of acting regardless of genre or scope. He says, “I wouldn’t say I have anything that I wouldn’t like to do, let’s put it like that. I’m pretty open to anything to challenge my character and challenge my progression growing into this. This project [Going Places] has been an amazing time and gave me some of the most substance to play with as an actor so honestly, anything that challenges growth and being able to work with cool people.”
The actor’s creativity also expands to music and songwriting. He has independently released a handful of singles since 2020, most recently “Wondering” and “Erase Me,” both of which he worked on with musician and producer Josh Lambert.
“I feel like it’s a pretty raw thing to release music as an actor,” he confesses. “You don’t know how people will react. For me at least. I’ve had this passion to release music since the age of 7. This is stuff I write in my bedroom with my friends and they play guitar and produce it right there on the spot, so it’s a very close-knit thing. We’re not going to big studios doing these big distribution releases. This is stuff that’s me trying to challenge myself as an artist growing.”
Cutkosky finds the hobby of writing music to be therapeutic but also enjoys sitting with his friends and messing around with a guitar and lyrics. His track “Erase Me,” which was released earlier this month, is one that he is really proud of and is the most different from his other tracks as it leans more toward the rock genre.
“A lot of inspiration I feel like is empathy and experiences,” he says of his songwriting. “All the music that I’ve been inspired by has been heavy music that talks about emotions and traumas and past experiences, so I like to write a lot on that. It’s a nice therapy for my mind to be able to get out concepts that maybe are a little difficult to talk about so you can kind of put it in a song and create a story.”
With hopes of doing more within music, Cutkosky continues to do weekly vocal lessons and research of music genres and production. Another venture is his clothing line, Khaotic Collective, an endeavor he’s been working toward from a young age.
“I’ve always been inspired by metaphysics, mysticism, philosophy, and supernatural from a young age,” Cutkosky explains. His mom used to put crystals around his crib, and he himself collected those as well as rocks and stones, having been drawn to it just the same. He felt passionate about this but also alienated around other people because this wasn’t something they typically wanted to talk about. “I’ve been researching that stuff for a very long time and I’ve always wanted to talk about concepts that we weren’t taught in school. I think it’s a very hard thing for people to talk about, and especially, therein lies the hypocrisy in America that’s happening right now. This divide that we see — people wanting to say that we are helping, we are looking at things, but you know we’re just going to acknowledge and not teach or learn how to grow.”
Having been a skater since the age of 8, Cutkosky was always drawn to streetwear clothing, especially skater fashion from brands like Zumiez and Thrasher. “Seeing people and brands and like that just resonated with me,” he says. “At the age of 14 and 15, I started drawing out stuff but I knew that once I put it out I wanted to be able to connect these two things. I didn’t feel right putting out a brand about myself. I didn’t even like using Instagram when I was a kid. I was very embarrassed when people even talked to me about Shameless. I just kind of looked at it like, oh this is family that I work with, this is how I handle it. I go to public school, I don’t talk about my job, you know, my main job is to be a kid. At the age of 18 when I moved out, I was like OK, now, this is where I can start to try to pursue this.”
His last collection, called Global Hysteria, tapped into political issues without getting too deep into the roots but grasped the gist of what was happening last year. “It showed everything that was happening in America at that point, no political opinions or anything, just this is what is happening,” Cutkosky explains. “We went out to the airports, we went out to the protests and we were out there showing every divide that was happening, basically.”
Cutkosky also made his directorial debut filming a video with shots of these scenes and put it together to explain what Global Hysteria was all about. His upcoming drop is a mini capsule called The Flower of Life.
Describing it, he says, “The Flower of Life is this new-age, sacred geometry that has to do with creation, basically. You start with one circle and that keeps multiplying outwards. There are certain theories that relate to this like cells multiplying with each other. Personally, I just think it’s a positive sign to put out peace at this time that we need it. The hat that we’re putting with it just says ‘Question Your Narrative’ with our brand on the front. And I think that ties back into me wanting people to look at this brand and think, ‘OK, I want something to wear but also this brand stands for a positive message.’ It’s moving forward as a generation and learning from what our parents had trouble with and generations did not teach to them. I think that’s why I do very limited drops because everything has to feel great. And if something doesn’t feel right, I don’t want to put it up.”
It’s clear while chatting with Cutkosky that he’s extremely passionate about every single one of his projects while still remaining humble and almost normal except for the fact that at 21, he’s not only a successful actor but also a musician and fashion designer. It could be very easy for him to indulge in the perks of fame and his platform, but Cutkosky chooses to shy away from that and focus on what’s important.
“I honestly am very grateful to my parents for that,” he says. “We were basically the first generation of social media, I would say. I didn’t know what it was or how to work it, so I focused on being a kid. I thought I’m gonna go skate with my friends. I’m going to go be a little punk head, and do my thing, and then by the age of 18, I was like, I think this is about time that I can actively start pursuing my career and really having the choices that I think are relative to me.”
His projects are all deliberate and well thought out. With each, he’s trying to put out a broader message and stay true to who he is. “I think there’s always new stuff to creatively pursue,” Cutkosky adds. “Obviously directing, like the short video I mentioned earlier. I’m just going with the flow of everything. I’m enjoying myself. I’m grateful for the path that I’m on, and I’m grateful for the spot that I’m in, so you know as long as I just try to keep my head down and work hard, that’s as much as I can ask for.”